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Planning: councils told to favour free schools

The government has told councils they should favour the development of free schools as part of new planning rules

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has insisted that directives in the recent draft National Planning Policy Framework will stand, and that councils should back the development of state-funded schools in their planning decisions.

Authorities will need to engage in pre-application discussions with promoters, clearly justify any application refusal, and prioritise any appeals.

Pickles (pictured) said: ‘Councils need to do more to support the expansion of popular schools, so that school waiting lists are not a barrier to greater equality of opportunity.

‘We also need to avoid councils covertly seeking to use planning red tape to stop the healthy competition of new free schools. These measures will help improve local schooling to the benefit of local communities.’

Education secretary Michael Gove, currently embroiled in a legal dispute with BDP over the flagship Westminster Academy, said: ‘We urgently need more good school places. Red tape must not be a barrier.

‘These important changes will allow talented teachers, parents, charities and academy sponsors to set up excellent new schools more quickly, responding to parental demand.

‘Free schools will improve choice for parents, give power back to teachers, and give more children access to a first class education that’s close to home.’

The government is also publishing a summary of responses to its consultation - Planning for Schools Development - and will continue to explore scope for the planning system to support state-funded and free schools.

Last week rumours emered that Rupert Murdoch is in talks with the government over the development of free schools continued to grow this week

According to sources education secretary Michael Gove has had multiple meetings with Murdoch and News Corporation executive Joel Klein, according to a ministerial meetings list published in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.

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